Four years ago, Anthony Letcher was living in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. As Hurricane Katrina bore down on the city, he braved floodwaters and torrential rain to help dozens of his friends and neighbors escape attics and roofs. His story was originally detailed in the second Voice of Witness book, Voices from the Storm. Today, while Anthony is doing his best to help his family, he struggles to get around as a result of diabetes. This week, McSweeney’s is donating the proceeds from all sales of Voices from the Storm to assisting Anthony in Texas. Below is an update from him.
I’m living in Dallas, Texas. Everything has been—it’s been all right. I’m kind of having it a little bit hard right now. But you know, God is good. I got me some housing. In that department I guess everything is okay.
I came down here from Hurricane Katrina. I believe it was just about the first of September of 2005. I’ve been down here ever since. Well, first I was in another city. I was in Little Rock, Arkansas where our president came from—well he used to be president anyway. I was in Little Rock and I didn’t know where any of my family was. I couldn’t find anybody, because everybody was scattered.
Then someone brought me to the bus station and I saw this white guy, and I told this white guy that I’d come from New Orleans. I said, “Yeah, I heard my family’s in Dallas.” Man, this guy bought me a ticket. This guy actually bought me a bus ticket, man! And when I made it to Dallas I saw some friends of mine.
One thing led to another. I can’t really remember how I found out, but my sister was living in the Hilton hotel. Don’t ask me how I found that hotel. It was like this mythical, this mystical force, or God, if you will. Something steered me right there to ‘em. When I got there, I say at least about twenty of my family members were there. I was so happy to see them. I’m a grown-ass man. They say men are not supposed to cry, but I don’t think nothing’s wrong with it ’cause I was happy.
Then two weeks after I got here I was diagnosed with renal failure. I gave my mother one of my kidneys when I was seventeen, so that left me with one kidney. So after twenty-five years of just having one kidney I found out that I had high blood pressure and that kind of destroyed my other kidney. My kidneys had failed during the storm. From what the doctors told me, they said I was running on adrenaline.
He said my kidneys were then on the verge of collapsing. When I made it to Dallas, I had a headache for about five days. So when I finally did walk to Parkland Hospital my blood pressure was like 248 over 190. The doctor was like, “It’s a miracle that you made it here.” And I was surprised because I’d never had high blood pressure—I didn’t know what high blood pressure was. He basically said that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. My blood pressure completely destroyed the kidneys. I never knew blood pressure could do you that. I never knew stress could do you that. I’m on dialysis now. My dialysis is going okay. I’m in the process right now of receiving another kidney. I guess it may be eighteen to twenty-four months from now I’ll finally have one. I’m on top of the kidney donor list.
But I’m basically out here by myself. I don’t really have any transportation to get around so I use the DART Paratransit vehicles to get me to some of my important places that I have to be, like dialysis. But I really try to keep a positive frame of mind. All my lab work checks out. It looks pretty good! But you know, I have my moments when I’m depressed, I’m missing my family.
A host of things make me depressed—my family being the most important. But you know, there’s the dialysis, the fact that I can’t move around. I’m not mobile. I have a wheelchair but I’m not too mobile and I really don’t know my way around Dallas. We’d been in New Orleans all our life. Down south, you know? I mean, your mother couldn’t walk outside with me speaking to her. It’s kind of different in Dallas. People down here, if you say good morning, they don’t say good morning back. Even though I’ve been down here all this time, I’m not used to that.
I’m really not depressed as in wanting to hurt yourself. It’s just like being a little down, because you’re not around your family. You see, I’m family oriented. But even though my family’s not here, they really love me. They’re really supportive. I’ve got three beautiful grandkids. That really gets me over the hump. Whenever I get depressed I always think about my family and that really helps.
My sister had housing down in New Orleans before the storm, so they told her everything was fixed and, if she wanted to, she could come on back home. Well, my sister’s a homebody, so she wanted to go back home. Naturally, I had to stay back here because of the medical access. But then you’ve also got a lot of violence in New Orleans, a lot of negativity, too. Brothers are killing each other constantly. I’m tired of that. It’s time for a change, and I feel like Dallas is my change even though I’m missing my family. I can’t really explain it. But this is where I’m gonna lay my head at.
They still haven’t gotten everything together down there. Don’t let nobody tell you that they have. Man if you go around there right now, you’d shake your head because it basically looks the same. I’ve been down there a few times. I couldn’t stay because of my dialysis. I got off dialysis one Saturday at nine a.m. in the morning and I caught a plane down there and came back Sunday night. So I only stayed down there about 24 hours. I just wanted to go and see my grandkids.
It’s been four years. Around my house, which is in the Ninth Ward, a lot of that is still torn up. A lot of it has been torn down, but it still looks like a ghost town. My auntie and a friend of mine stayed across the street from me in New Orleans. They’re the only ones on the block for about two blocks. They’re the only family that lives there.
If my sister had the money right now she would pack her bags and come on back up here. She’s afraid for her two young boys’ lives. It’s terrible. It’s just terrible. Nothing but crime. Killings going on everyday.
I would think it’s just about the same. Nothing’s changed as far as the crime goes. A lot of crime, a lot of negativity. You ever heard that phrase about the barrel full of crabs? Every time one tries to get out, another one latches on and pulls it back in. It’s just an old saying, but actually it’s true.
When I was in the storm—you don’t know, man—I had this mentality you wouldn’t even believe. When the storm hit all I wanted to do was capitalize off people’s miseries. That was the frame of mind that I was in. Just like everybody else. But somewhere along the line God took it from me. And I didn’t make no money, man, but I saved about fifty people. I was all in the attics man, getting elderly people out and everything. I just couldn’t stop myself. I didn’t know my kidneys had collapsed, but I was going on adrenaline. And I just wouldn’t stop getting them people man.
This family, I don’t remember their names, but it was a mother, three daughters, two sons, and I believe like three grandchildren. They were all in the attic man. They call me sometimes. But it’s been a while since they called me. It was like one love.
Right now I really have peace of mind. I don’t have to worry about getting in no trouble. I don’t have to worry about doing bad things to anybody. That’s not what I’m about. I really turned over a new leaf in my life. All I want’s what’s best for my children. If I had some way to help them get out of New Orleans, I would.
I have a twenty-four-year-old daughter. She’s working at a little hotel, flipping sheets. She tells me, “Daddy, I wanna come out there by you so bad.” I say I know. She says sometimes she’s afraid for her children. Says, “All they got is violence out here.”
It makes me feel less than a man. I know I’m sick. She knows I’m sick, but it makes me feel less than a man that I can’t help them. I can’t just get up and leave like I want to leave. Or find me a job to work like everybody else. I love working. I miss working.
This is my home. I’m not going back. Like I say, I talk to my sister all the time, five to six times a day. But no, I’m not going back home. I’m not planning on going back to New Orleans. I was always in trouble with the law in New Orleans. It was always something that kept me there. I hate it to be that I had to be sick to come to grips with my life and stuff. But you know sometimes you just gotta go through what you gotta go through. Now I have a relationship with my sister and my daughter you wouldn’t believe. I never thought I would have a relationship like that. Man, they love me to death.
The day I started rescuing those people, I made a conscious decision to leave the life of violence, leave the life of crime. I made a decision to not do it anymore. And it’s been four years. And don’t think because I’m on dialysis I can’t do that. That’s not stopping me at all. I’m still in pretty fair physical condition. On my good days there’s nothing stopping me from doing the wrong thing. I just choose not to. I’d rather live and let live. And if I can help somebody I would.
I’ve got really mixed emotions about what Katrina. As far as what it did for the country, I really believe it opened up the country’s eyes, and kind of showed the country that the United States isn’t all powerful like it makes itself out to be. We were left. We were abandoned. People down there already had problems with authority and law, and Hurricane Katrina made it that much worse.
As far as the positive things for New Orleans, I really believe it made a lot of people look at life a little bit more. Katrina really put me into the frame of mind of family. It’s a very big issue with me when it comes to my family—my sister, my daughter, my grandkids. Now that I’m on dialysis I realize how precious life is. For anybody in this world to just throw their life behind foolishness and stuff like that—no, I can’t even think like that now.
I’m trying to really think of some positive things because they really do have a lot of beautiful people down there. A lot of people try to take care of their families and their children. All my life I’d never been out of New Orleans. You’re talking about 85, 90 percent of New Orleanians that never been out of that city.
A lot of people wanted to leave. But you can’t just pack up and go when you have a family. It’s difficult already, but when you’re trying to get up and pack up, and you’re the breadwinner and you got to take care of your family, you just can’t go. So the few people the people that I do know from New Orleans down here, they’re not going back. They say they’re making Dallas their home. I think I have about two families living in this apartment complex where I live at who are from New Orleans. We’ll occasionally holler at each other. As a matter of fact, I was invited to a cookout on father’s day. Man, they boiled some crawfish. They cooked a pot of gumbo. It felt good. It felt like I was back home again. The good times.